Three longtails, Thailand

Buying a SIM Card in Thailand

By Dave Dean Get Connected38 Comments


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Like much of the rest of Southeast Asia, Thailand offers an awful lot to travelers. Beautiful beaches and landscapes, great weather, fantastic food, and low prices make it an appealing destination, and many millions of visitors flock to the country every year.

For those looking to stay connected in the Land of Smiles, buying a prepaid SIM card as a tourist is a fairly straightforward and inexpensive process. Data allowances are typically quite generous, and you’ll get decent speeds and good coverage almost anywhere you’re likely to be.

We’ve spent years traveling throughout the country, from busy cities and towns to quiet islands and isolated rural areas. Having tried all the major cell companies, we’ve found the best Thai SIM card for most visitors, whether you’re on vacation for a few days or plan to stay for weeks or months at a time.

Here’s everything you need to know.

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Companies


  • We recommend AIS for most travelers
  • Consider TrueMove or Happy if you’re not venturing too far off the beaten track

There are three cell networks in Thailand, operated by dtac, AIS, and TrueMove. While you can also buy SIM cards and service from resellers, there’s little point in doing so for most tourists and other short-term visitors.

AIS has the best coverage and largest market share, plus a large network of Wi-Fi hotspots you can access as part of the more expensive packages. It seems like you’re rarely far from one of these hotspots in any good-sized city or town, and they don’t count towards your mobile data allowance.

Prices are broadly similar to the competition, so for the majority of visitors to Thailand, AIS SIM cards are the best option. 3G/HSPA+ is available on the 900 and 2100Mhz bands, while 4G/LTE is provided on 1800 and 2100Mhz (LTE bands 1 and 3.)

I’ve also used TrueMove and dtac’s Happy prepaid services, and both provided good coverage and speeds in towns and cities. They did have noticeable service gaps in rural areas and on less-populated islands, however.

All providers offer LTE service in 80-90% of the country, including all major cities and towns.

How


Like many other things in Thailand, buying a SIM card is quite simple, especially if you fly into either of Bangkok’s airports. At both Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang, all three cell companies have booths beside each other in the arrival hall.

SIM card kiosks at BKK airport

The booths at Suvarnabhumi are often busy, with long lines for all providers. Staff are efficient and the lines move fairly quickly, but if you’re tired and grumpy after a long flight, it’s not the most enjoyable experience.

dtac (Happy) has a self-service machine right beside its booth in the main arrival area, which takes cards and Thai baht notes. Customers were ignoring it despite the long line for counter service on my last trip, so my partner used it to buy herself a SIM in under a minute.

Happy self-service machine to buy a tourist SIM at Bangkok Airport in Thailand

There’s also a small AIS booth in the international baggage reclaim area at Suvarnabhumi, before you go through to the arrivals hall. It’s often much less busy than the one in the main arrival hall, so if you’re planning to buy an AIS tourist SIM at the airport anyway, this can be the place to do it.

All of the airport booths and machines offer pretty similar, tourist-focused packages, aimed mainly at those spending a week or two in the country. It’s possible to buy SIMs at other international airports in Thailand as well, including Chiang Mai and Phuket.

If you’re in a hurry and not in Thailand for long, feel free to pick up one of these tourist SIM card packages. For better deals, seek out convenience stores or official retail shops outside the airport.

Thailand bought in stricter requirements for buying SIMs in late 2017, which means the days of just handing over cash at the corner store are gone. Foreigners now need to provide their passport and have their photo taken as part of the registration process.

I experienced this first hand on my last couple of trips to Bangkok, both at a 7-11 and an official carrier store in a shopping mall. In both cases, the staff member took a copy of my passport and snapped a photo of me on a phone or tablet app.

I’m not a fan of onerous identification requirements like these. Unless you’re buying from a street vendor and are happy with a used SIM that could be shut off at any time, however, you’re pretty much stuck with it.

On the upside, the rest of the process was relatively painless. At the store, I took a number for an English-speaking sales rep, picked a call/text/data package from a printed brochure at the counter, and handed over the money.

The rep did the rest, including activating the SIM, loading my credit onto it, and selecting the right package. It took about ten minutes in total, and the SIM worked immediately.

At the 7-11, I asked for a basic SIM card, then picked a package from a list on the cashier’s screen. After paying for the card and a top-up voucher to cover the total amount, I installed the SIM and added the credit using the instructions on the voucher.

Finally, the cashier gave me the right text code to enter for the package I was after, which activated immediately. Again, the process took about ten minutes.

Don’t want to wait until you arrive in Thailand to get your prepaid SIM card? Buy it in advance instead! SIMOptions ships AIS SIM cards worldwide, letting you get set up ahead of time.

Just drop in your new card when you land and you’ll be connected with calls, texts, and plenty of data before you even leave baggage claim. Find out more here.

Costs


Most of the tourist SIM cards sold at airports in Thailand offer “unlimited” data packages. Speeds are typically restricted, either from the beginning or after you’ve used a certain amount of data. A small amount of call credit may or may not be included as well.

As of February 2019, the AIS packages on offer ranged from a 7-day version for 219 baht (~$7) and unlimited 1Mbps data, to a 30-day package with unlimited 4Mbps data for 799 baht (~$25).

AIS tourist SIM pricing at BKK

Both dtac and TrueMove had similar pricing, albeit with small variations in data allowances and validity periods.

None are great value compared to purchasing outside the airport, but if you’re in a hurry and happy to pay for convenience, they’re still relatively inexpensive by global standards.

If you buy your SIM card from a convenience store or official outlet elsewhere in Thailand, you’ll have access to the full range of packages. They are many and varied, with validity ranging from a day to a month.

Note that if you’re planning to buy from a convenience store, not all chains sell all SIM cards. 7-11 doesn’t sell AIS SIMs, for example, and a Tesco Lotus store I walked into near Don Mueang didn’t sell SIM cards at all.

On an earlier trip about a year ago, I bought two different packages from an AIS store in Bangkok. Each SIM card cost 50 baht (~$1.60).

For 427 baht including tax (~$14), I received 3GB of LTE data valid for a month, plus access to the high-speed AIS SUPER WI-FI network. I also added a few extra baht to cover the occasional call and text. The other package had unlimited 1Mbps data, valid for a month, for 321 baht including tax.

In the interests of research on my most recent trip, I decided to buy a TrueMove SIM from a 7-11 in Bangkok instead. There, I paid 49 baht for the SIM, plus 299 baht (~$9.50) for 5GB of high-speed data valid for 15 days.

Topping Up


You can buy top-ups pretty much anywhere in Thailand, including many convenience stores, AIS retail locations, and several other places. Just keep an eye out for the AIS / 1-2-Call logo. It’s also possible to top up online with a credit/debit card on the AIS website.

No matter how you top up, you may then need to purchase or renew the actual package you want to use. Be sure to do this, as the default call, text, and data rates aren’t particularly cheap.

Calling *777# from your phone should give an interactive menu for choosing your package — take a look on the AIS site for more details. To switch your AIS SIM from Thai to English, enter *700*9*7*2# and wait a minute or two for the confirmation text.

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Coverage and Data Speeds


AIS coverage is good almost anywhere you’re likely to go as a tourist, and much of the rest of the country as well.

I’ve had full signal most of the time in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and other provincial capitals, as well as on bus and scooter trips in the countryside and on several islands. I even had signal for a while after crossing the border into Cambodia, at least until I got outside the range of the last Thai cell tower.

Data speeds are reasonable, but definitely vary depending on where you are, and how busy the cell tower is that you’re using. I had much faster LTE speeds in Chiang Mai than Bangkok, for instance.

It’s also worth mentioning the exceptional speed of the AIS SUPER WI-FI network. I regularly saw over 150Mbps download speeds when connected to it, and since it doesn’t count towards your cellular data allowance, it’s well worth using this network if your SIM package includes access to it.

AIS LTE speeds in central Bangkok

AIS LTE speeds in central Bangkok

AIS LTE speeds in central Chiang Mai

AIS LTE speeds in central Chiang Mai

As mentioned earlier, TrueMove and dtac/Happy coverage and speeds are good in populated areas, but tend to drop off in more isolated spots. Traveling through the Trang island group with a TrueMove SIM, for instance, I usually (but not always) had 3G/HSPA+ service, with acceptable but not fast speeds.

4G/LTE speeds in Phuket, however, were very quick.

TrueMove LTE speeds in Phuket

TrueMove LTE speeds in Phuket

Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.

About the Author
Dave Dean

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a traveler for 20 years, and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken-down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hi Dave,

    A great guide to buying a SIM in Thailand. It worked exactly as you mentioned and the prices are spot on. On mainland Thailand it’s easy to go to the AIS stores. Check out their offers. Sam got 1 week pass with 1GB of data and BHT50 for calls FREE. If you arrive on some of the islands first like Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta the 7 Elevens seem to run out of the best SIMs quite often, just a heads up. I purchased my SIM in a 7 Eleven on Koh Lanta and had 2GB and BHT50 for calls during our month stay in Thailand which lasted right up to the last day!

  2. Avatar

    Hi Dave,
    I just want to update information. The account identification has been required every store. I heard that it must do due to the government policy. Besides, there’re 4G services in Thailand since the beginning of this year. I and my friend went to Thailand for 2 weeks last month. My iPad is WiFi-only model, but my accommodation has not WiFI. So, I rented mobile router called – ThaiSims. It provided unlimited data (I don’t know how much GB). Then, my iPad can connect internet everywhere, not only in the hotel. It priced 5$/day. I and my friend equally paid. So, it’s just 2.5$/day!

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Hi Kitty,

      Thanks for the update. I have to say I’m not surprised to hear the passport/ID requirement is being more strictly enforced under the current political regime.

      Regarding LTE — yep, True has had good LTE coverage for a while, and DTAC has limited service. AIS didn’t start offering LTE until this year (2016), so I’d expect it’ll be a while before you regularly see it outside Bangkok and a few other cities.

      For anyone wanting to use LTE with AIS, remember you’ll also need a phone that supports the 1800Mhz frequency — most North American phones won’t, for instance.

  3. Avatar

    Hi .
    If aperson will came again in thai land after 5 or6 month .this sim card will work next time if recharg? thank.s

  4. Avatar

    my son is going to Thailand to teach English this Sept for at least 6 months…trying to fig out best plan/ card for him for data/text/voice(he has to call me of course!) I’m really confused

    1. Dave Dean Author

      There’s not a great deal of price difference between the various SIM card options, especially if he’ll be in the country for a few months. Around $10/month will get him 2GB of data and a few local calls and texts, as long as he buys the SIM from a 7-11 or cell company rather than at the airport. If he needs more data each month, there are larger packages available too. As mentioned in the article, I like AIS because it has wide network coverage, and also gives you access to loads of Wi-fi hotspots in the cities.

      For calling you, I’d recommend he uses Skype (or something similar, like Facetime) to save money.

  5. Avatar

    Good morning:

    I currently am living in Bangkok and just wanted to provide an update. I too like AIS, and all the family are using a tourist SIM. There has been a recent change where AIS and 7/11 are no longer affiliated. You can however top up the AIS cards at Family Mart locations, which are also very plentiful around Bangkok. You can also top up via the AIS website and using a credit card, something I do regularly.

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Thanks for the info, Al! I’ve updated the post to reflect this change.

  6. Avatar

    If I understand this correctly, to enable my laptop I need a GMS phone with a AIS sim card to teather to my laptop. Or is there another way?

    1. Dave Dean Author

      That’s one way of doing it, yup (it’s GSM, by the way, not GMS). You can also use a dongle like this that plugs into your laptop, with a local SIM card inside it, or more commonly, a hotspot/Mi-Fi device like this with a local SIM that lets you connect 5-10 other devices to it via its own wireless network.

      The key thing with either of them is that they aren’t locked to a specific carrier in whatever country you buy it in, so you can use them with local SIM cards anywhere in the world. Typically, you’re best to buy from Amazon or another retailer, rather than your cell company, for that reason.

  7. Avatar

    Hi Dave!
    Thanks for this informative posts!

    Would you please recommend the cheapest package of 1-2 Call for me? I will be staying in the city center so I’m sure I can find Family Mart around the area.

    I’m using a 4G enabled phone with 1800Mhz frequency. I need a fast connection (1.5 GB and up) and not so much on call for 7 days 6 nights in BKK.

    I’m also considering the 7 day tourist sim if there’s not much difference with the price as compared to the 1-2 Call sim in local stores.

    Thanks a lot! God bless.
    Hendel

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Hi Hendel,

      I haven’t been to Thailand for a while, unfortunately, so I don’t have first hand experience of what the current package pricing looks like. That said, the link I gave above (http://www.ais.co.th/package/) should be pretty accurate.

      There will certainly be a difference between the tourist SIM price at the airport and what’s available at local stores elsewhere, but you’re not talking large sums either way for a 7 day stay.

      1. Avatar

        Hi Dave,
        I am in Hua Hin, Thailand and need a SIM card for a long stay (6 months++).
        Are there AIS cell packages available here and what would you suggest as
        a package for staying in touch with my family and clients back in the States without
        going broke? I already use WhatsApp and Line. Sometimes though there are those
        situations when someone needs to call me and use my regular phone number.
        Talking of (phone number) is there any way to get a repetitive number as much
        as possible? I know that there are auctions for such things (phone numbers) —
        can I get at least maybe the last 4 digits or any digits in my new Thai number that are repetitive? I need to know asap as I am purchasing a SIM card this week.
        Thanks for your help — AL

      2. Dave Dean Author

        AIS packages are available in Hua Hin, at the same prices as elsewhere in the country. You just top up each month as usual.

        Regarding calling, and being called by, US numbers, I’d suggest Skype Calling or Google Voice. You can get a US number for free or a few bucks a month, and have it ring on your phone for free, or redirect to your Thai number for a few cents a minute. Similarly, you can call US numbers for free (Google Voice) or a few cents a minute (Skype).

        I’ve no idea about getting repetitive numbers, sorry. You can probably choose from the range of available numbers at the store you buy your SIM from, but they may not have anything particularly memorable.

  8. Avatar

    Been in Bangkok for 5 hrs now and not found the sim I want.

    The airport only sold 7 day sims that were more expensive than quoted on here and the local 7/11s didn’t have stock and the family mart didn’t have the 1-2-c in stock and the 7 day one I decided to get as a last resort they couldn’t register online so they wouldn’t sell it to me!

  9. Avatar

    Last year 7-Eleven fell out with AIS over fees and no longer stock AIS products or offer a top-up service – they are now TrueMove retailers.

    The easiest place to top up your credit is Tesco Lotus who are everywhere – I’ve never tried Family Mart…

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Purely convenience/laziness. 🙂 The AIS kiosk at Bangkok airport will only sell you tourist packages. If you’re happy to wait until you get into the city, you can buy the standard packages. Given the endless lines at that kiosk, apparently many people can’t wait to get connected!

  10. Avatar

    Hi Dave, thanks for the very helpful article! I’m struggling to find info on buying an AIS SIM within Phuket International Airport, are you able to offer any insight? Thanks in advance! – Cindy

    1. Dave Dean Author

      I’ve been through Phuket airport a few times, although not for maybe three years now. There really isn’t much there in the way of useful shops — a few (bad) restaurants, money changers etc. I don’t remember having seen anywhere selling SIM cards — but then again, I wasn’t particularly looking for them there either.

      I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying I don’t really have much insight for you! 🙂

  11. Avatar

    Hello Dave,
    I am going to Thailand in April. I will be traveling to Bangkok and a few other cities for 2 weeks. Which plan do you recomemnd? Most of the words are in Thai on thier website and I can not read it. I have no problem waiting to go to 1 of the stores to buy a sim. Also should I buy the 2 week traveler sim for 599THB or even the 7 day one, until I can get a better deal?

    1. Dave Dean Author

      I’ll be back in Thailand in a couple of weeks, and will update pricing etc soon after — I don’t have new recommendations, but the post will be updated before you travel. 🙂

      Regarding the traveler SIM, I don’t recommend it unless you absolutely need to have a local SIM before you leave the airport, both because of the higher prices, and the lengthy wait to buy one at the kiosks at Bangkok airport.

      1. Avatar

        Thank you Dave!
        I agree and I hope your trip goes well. I will wait to go into town to get one. Like you said, by then you will have price updates before I leave to to there. First I Need to get A phone. lol

  12. Avatar

    Hi Dave, any updates in recommendations and prices, going in a couple of weeks for a month.

    Thanks, Mike

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Hi Mike,

      Prices and recommendations are up to date as of the publication date of the post (two weeks ago).

  13. Avatar

    My husband is in Phuket now. He travelled on March 9 2018 and will be there until March 13, 2018. But he said that last evening he tried to buy sim card in Phuket and it was not sold to foreigner due to government regulation prohibit foreigner to have Thai Sim Card and they have to find local people to buy it and have to register the local people ID as a prove to that. Is that really that difficult and sounds horrible . Thank you.

    1. Dave Dean Author

      I suspect whoever told him that was either trying to scam him, or just wrong. I’m in Thailand currently, and bought a SIM at an official AIS store in Bangkok a few weeks ago with no problem whatsoever.

  14. Avatar

    Thank you so much for your reply. I will remind him about this. Thank you, Sir

  15. Avatar

    As a Thai nationals, never buy sim card from airport. If you’re big user of internet, go to the store and buy Unlimited data instead, especially DTAC, you could get benefits from it.

    1. Avatar

      P.S. if your phone is sim-locked, try to buy a WiFi card from TRUE, it has 6 mbps unlimited! you can use any public places that has True WiFi! but i recommend you buy TRUE WiFi on the internet

      http://www.truewifi.net/2011/buy_wifi.htm

      you can get up to 200mbps!

      I recommend you to get that, and don’t buy a crap turist sim card, it ain’t worth it.

  16. Avatar

    Thank you so much for the tips. Will be travelling to thailand next week and your article gave us the idea.

  17. Avatar

    Thank you, DaveDean, for your excellent advice on which SIM to buy and where best to buy it while on holiday in Thailand! As suggested, I think I’ll wait till I get into Bangkok city.
    Do you know what time the AIS stores are open until in the malls on a Saturday/Sunday? I land at 6.30pm on Saturday.

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Shops are open pretty late in the malls in Thailand, even at weekends, but by the time you get through the airport and into the city, the AIS stores could be closed. If so, they’ll be open again whenever the mall opens on Sunday, though (often around 10am), so just head in then.

  18. Avatar

    Hi Dave, thanks for all that great info! Apologies for my lack of tech knowledge, sorry if this is a silly question… I’m in Phuket for 4-5 weeks fitness training and as it’s so very wet, there’s unfortunately a lot of down time after training spent indoors on Netflix and streaming movies online etc (I’ve been here many times so sightseeing in the rain = not a priority). The hotel WiFi isn’t terribly good for keeping up with this level of data, so do you think it’d be worth buying a data package somewhere to make it easier? Or does that kind of internet use take up way more data & need more download speed than it’d be worth? At this point I’m thinking it’d be worth it for 800B or so to stop it dropping out all the time ?

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Hi Rachel,

      Honestly, I suspect that if you’re streaming Netflix etc for a few hours most days, you’ll burn through your high-speed allowance on the “unlimited” packages quite quickly. After that, you’ll be on a much slower, throttled speed that likely won’t be much/any better than your hotel Wi-fi. Buying add-on packs for large amounts of high-speed data will also get pretty expensive.

      One thing worth checking is whether you can see any of the Wi-fi networks provided by the phone companies from your hotel room. The AIS SUPER WI-FI network is extremely fast, but most of the other ones should still provide better speeds than your hotel by the sound of it. Consider buying whatever cell package you need that also gives access to that provider’s Wi-fi hotspots, and you might be in luck. No promises, but it might help you out.

  19. Avatar

    Thanks for that tip, I’ll check it out ? I thought that might be the case with that amount of data usage. It’s more of a guesthouse than a hotel as such, and there’s only 15 rooms, but I guess all 3 of their WiFi options are just overloaded with everyone doing the same thing in their down time after training. ?‍♀️?‍♀️

    Thankfully the sun’s been out a bit more lately which means less need to be stuck indoors on Netflix anyway! ??

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